FEATURE: Getting back to a ‘normal’ Christmas

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Festivities are just round the corner: preparations to ensure the Christmas party rocks must begin early (credit: Getty/South_agency)
Festivities are just round the corner: preparations to ensure the Christmas party rocks must begin early (credit: Getty/South_agency)

Related tags Multi-site pub operators Pubco + head office Tenanted + leased Gastropub Freehouse

The festive period is traditionally a strong trading time for pubs. But, let’s be honest, the past few years have been anything but traditional.

Promotional content by Lanchester Wines

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When it comes to festive wine, make this the Christmas your customers deserve.

While this might not be a ‘normal’ Christmas, there is still opportunity for celebration which in turn allows operators the opportunity to trade up.

Stick with the classics your customers love but offer a step up – if Sauvignon Blanc’s your best seller, offer the Sancerre. If your customers prefer reds, find a deliciously spicy Australian Shiraz. Or why not trade up your house Prosecco to a Prosecco Rosé or even a Magnum, the perfect centrepiece for any celebration.

For a truly festive nibble, we highly recommend a warm minced pie paired with a slither of stilton and a small glass of chilled tawny port. The combination of sweet and salty is a true Christmas delight.


Giving back at Christmas

Giving back at Christmas


While Christmas can be a good income driver for pubs it is also a time for them to give back.

Last year’s Great British Pub Awards Community Hero Pub of the Year, The Last Post & Memorial Bar in Thornaby, North Yorkshire, steps in to make sure that people in the local community get to celebrate Christmas.

Licensee Julie Cooper plans early by advertising Christmas events on social media and booking in works parties as early as possible.

While the pub runs ‘paid for’ events for large groups, donations made by customers at the pub helps to fund free Christmas events for those in need. She staffs it with volunteers so does not incur any labour costs.

In the lead up to 25 December, she runs a range of events including a free pensioners’ Christmas party on a weekday between 12pm to 4pm, where they receive a free drink on arrival and a free gift. There are a few games of bingo, party games and a buffet.

And on Christmas Day afternoon, she hosts a free Christmas dinner at the pub helping to get people together.

“It is for people on their own, low incomes and older pensioners. It is aimed at people that really don’t have a chance to celebrate Christmas with family. It is combating loneliness and people who don’t have funds to have a decent meal,” she adds.

Last year, pubs lost an average £10,335 in the week before Christmas with Christmas Day takings down 60%. (Source: UKHospitality)

The arrival of the Omicron variant saw pre-bookings fall as people feared another washout Christmas and wanted to guarantee time with their families. From Sunday 5 December to Saturday 11 December 2021, more than 3m pub visits were cancelled. The Christmas period also saw 37m fewer pints sold – worth £300m in trade. (Source: British Beer & Pub Association).

Now the industry is facing more obstacles as the cost-of-living crisis combined with spiralling energy costs means disposable income is tight. Getting people out of home and into the pub for festive season is set to be a bigger challenge than ever before. But hopes are high the pub trade could be back on track for the first time in three years.

Caren Geering, central operations director for Star Pubs & Bars believes that Christmas 2022 is a “massive opportunity”.

“With the cost-of-living crisis, customers will welcome some positivity and, with potentially less disposable income, will want a real experience when they do come out to provide the value they’re after,” she says.

“People want this Christmas to be extra special. Creating a stand-out experience and offering premium extras that customers can add on is vital. So is convenience – people now expect to be able to book online, and it needs to be easy to do so or they’ll go elsewhere.”

Preparing for the coming months is something that licensees should start now, says sales and marketing specialists Bums on Seats.

Licensees need to make sure they are marketing the festive period by promoting events online, using festive content, as well as collaborating with local communities online, says the marketing specialist. It also suggests operators should create a landing page to include all content, visuals and menus, which means web traffic can be tracked and all marketing activity performance measured.

Bums on Seats chief executive Amber Staynings says: “With recruitment challenges, energy bills soaring by up to 300% and inflation forecast to rise significantly this year, it's essential that operators maximise their potential revenue from the World Cup and go on to deliver a profitable Christmas.”

Meanwhile, Rachel Dobson, managing director of hospitality buying specialists Lynx Purchasing says the impact of high inflation, along with increased labour, energy and transport costs, and lower consumer confidence, are all part of the ‘big picture’ that operators have no choice but to endure, in the run-up to Christmas and into 2023.

But making relatively small changes to purchasing habits can make a real difference to margins and profits for pub businesses.

Dobson highlights pubs should be looking at making changes to purchase habits such as buying the most cost-effective pack sizes, checking orders carefully, reporting incorrect or damaged goods to the supplier, avoiding delivery charges by meeting minimum order amounts, planning ahead and order in good time to avoid last-minute, disorganised purchasing.


“The earlier pubs can plan menus and update suppliers on their expected ordering levels for the peak Christmas and new year trading period, the better,” she says.

“That’s going to be a challenge because although we know many consumers will be cutting back on spending, it’s not clear just how much that will affect pubs this Christmas. Even so, keeping suppliers in the picture, and letting them know in good time about reduced order levels, is a better strategy than placing last-minute orders for stock that may not be available.”

The festive season is a time when people love to get together with a party and that includes traditional Christmas dinner or even just some drinks and food. But as Lynx Purchasing highlights, it is more important than ever for pubs to plan a range of menu options at different price points to cater for the cost-of-living crisis.

“Clearly, not every group of customers will be confident to book a full Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. By also offering choices such as a two-course Christmas special, or a buffet menu, pubs will be able to appeal to a range of customer budgets,” she says.

Bidfood, the food wholesaler, agrees that operators need to remain savvy with their offerings this year and respond to consumer demands

Its own research of 2,000 consumers found that a third (32%) intend to socialise as much as they can, making up for lost occasions during lockdown, and only one in 10 are cautious about making bookings this year.

Value for money was also a top priority for consumers with two in five saying that due to the cost-of-living crisis, getting value for money will be more important than ever when they go out this Christmas time.

With this in mind, Bidfood says operators would benefit from offering something special with set menus, premium offers and environments that feel that bit more unique or luxurious to set themselves apart from competitors.

Vicky Tripp, campaign & brand manager at Bidfood said that it is easy to be focused on traditional Christmas foods but says innovation has been important.

“We’ve worked hard over the past 12 months to ensure we have something for everyone, ranging from seafood and fish, on-the-go items, luxury and nostalgia and, of course, free-from and meat-free,” she says.


Having the right range of drinks with festive beers, bottles of sparkling wines and those popular cocktails available will be crucial to ensure profitability.

Lanchester Wines director of sales Mark Roberts admits there are challenges this Christmas with particular issues around judging what consumer behaviour will be as well as managing the supply chain.

He advises licensees to work closely with their suppliers whether it be for drinks, food or other products to tackle the supply chain challenges and to tailor their menus.

“It is not a one-stop shop and you can’t put a cookie cutter on what to do,” he says.

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Mark Roberts of Lanchester Wines

However, Roberts says consistency is the way forward and advises licensees to be flexible in their approach offering viable alternatives to traditional wines.

“We would always encourage a secondary supply of a stylistically similar wine,” he advises.

“All operators are having to be a bit more creative and put a bit more thought into it.”

Many operators are planning ahead and tackling any potential supply chain issues on drinks menus by selling wines with more generic terms such as a “Chilean Merlot” or “Merlot”.

“They are allowing themselves as an operator to have options. It is not ideal as we would like to be provenance based but again it is that consistency,” he adds.

He says that for some operators one solution might be draught wine or ‘bag in a box’, which has seen a dramatic improvement in quality in recent years and taps into the demands for more sustainable products.

“What it does is it actually create an ability to sell really good wine and it mitigates quite a lot of costs,” he adds.

But don’t forget Christmas is about the special occasion and working with a wine supplier to offer items such as good-quality magnums of Prosecco that can make the experience more special.

“It is about creating that memory,” he advises.

But not every customer is a drinker of wine or alcohol. Don’t forget those drinkers that might not want to have an alcoholic drink or are the designated driver for the night.

Tom Ward of retail specialist Wise Bartender recommends a review of the drinks offering should ensure anyone who chooses not to drink alcohol this Christmas is adequately provided for.

“With recent research from KAM and Lucky Saint showing nearly one in three pub visits (29%) are now alcohol-free and 55% of all UK adults are reducing their alcohol intake, making sure that there are plenty of alcohol-free drinks available this Christmas could be an important step in providing a welcoming and inclusive environment that is attractive to as wide a customer base as possible,” he says.

This is a view backed by soft drinks company Coca-Cola, which advises licensees to offer something special for the festive season.

“Soft drinks will play an important role among those moderating their drinking and, of course, designated drivers – the unsung heroes of the holiday season. Sectors like colas, lemonade, mixers and adult soft drinks will all remain key sales drivers,” says Amy Burgess, senior trade communications manager at Coca-Cola Europacific Partners GB.

“The festive season gives operators an opportunity to diversify their range and bring some extra sparkle to festive occasions. Some 54% of consumers enjoy the experience of looking for a new drink when they’re at a pub or bar so there’s scope to experiment with unique festive cocktails and mocktails.”


Getting pre-bookings is a sure-fire way to manage the festive season. As well as helping with stock ordering it also means that pubs can plan for labour costs.

DesignMyNight, the booking engine, says this year is shaping up to be the busiest one yet with Christmas searches up 107% this year compared to 2021 and general winter searches up by 118%.

But while customers are making bookings, they are more wary than they once were.

“They are looking for flexible cancellation terms from their venue so it is advisable to give your booking Ts & Cs a dust off and make sure that you can give customers the honestly, flexibility and surety that they’re looking for without compromising your own capacity and profitability,” says Leighanne Bent, senior marketing manager of DesignMyNight.

“Taking deposits or insurance may still be good back-stop policies to consider this year to minimise losses from possible late cancellations. It’s also highly advised that operators utilise pre-orders during the festive period. This is so they can plan efficiently for stock and maximise their profit margins as customers can be encouraged to spend more when pre-ordering.”

Last year, Christmas celebrations were shifted with more meals and parties booked earlier in the month of December as people had half an eye on the likelihood of catching Covid-19 and didn’t want to miss family get-togethers. Statistics from the booking engine are already showing that this pattern is continuing in 2022, with the most popular dates being 7, 8, 9 ​and 15 December.

Bent says that there are also early indications that customers are looking for more of an experience.

“This could be the year that the tables are cleared for a disco at the end of the evening, when you find a use for that disused function room or get creative to maximise outdoor trading space in the winter,” she adds.

Alpine themed marquee boosts festive trade

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The Radcliffe in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, has opened a heated 40-cover marquee themed as an Alpine Ski Lodge, which provides overflow trading space and a function room for Christmas parties, which can increase festive season sales by 15%.

The space is decorated with wood panelling effect walls, an Alpine window scene, Christmas trees and decorations, a fire pit and an Instagram spot.

The marquee cost £1,000 to kit out in the first year and in subsequent years costs £500 to put up plus £150 weekly to rent.

“The Lodge is hugely popular with the community – visiting is now an annual tradition for many. It’s a destination in its own right, has a social media reach of 18,000 and introduces new people to the Radcliffe,” says licensee David Hage.

“The high-quality finish and its accessibility direct from the pub without the need to go outside are key to the Lodge’s success. As it’s like another room, users order in the pub, so no extra staff are required.”



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